Robert Badinter, who helped abolish death penalty in France, dies at 95

Robert Badinter, who spearheaded the drive to abolish France’s death penalty, campaigned against antisemitism and Holocaust denial, and led a European body dealing with the legal fallout of Yugoslavia’s breakup, has died. He was 95.

The French Justice Ministry on Feb. 9 confirmed Mr. Badinter’s death, without providing other details. French President Emmanuel Macron hailed him as a “figure of the century” who “never ceased to advocate for the ideas of the Enlightenment.”

A former lawyer and justice minister who was an impassioned champion of human rights, Mr. Badinter was best known for his sustained push to end capital punishment. He described seeing one of his clients lose his head to a guillotine, which was employed for executions in France through the 1970s.

As justice minister under then-President François Mitterrand, Mr. Badinter overcame public opposition and won parliamentary support for abolishing the death penalty in 1981.

Mr. Badinter was born to a Jewish family in Paris on March 30, 1928. He saw firsthand Nazi horrors as well as France’s collaboration with the Germans during World War II, and lost his father at Sobibor, a Nazi death camp in occupied Poland, according to Macron’s office. As a lawyer, Mr. Badinter later pursued a notorious Holocaust denier in court.

Mr. Badinter went on to lead France’s Constitutional Council, served as a senator for 16 years, and was seen as a moral compass for many in France for his defense of human rights.

In 1991, Mr. Badinter led an arbitration body set up by the European Economic Community to provide the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia with legal advice after two of the country’s six republics — Slovenia and Croatia — had declared independence. The Badinter Commission, as the body became known, was made up of presidents of constitutional courts of the member nations of the EEC, a precursor to the European Union.

The Badinter Commission issued 15 legal opinions between 1991 and 1993, including one saying that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had dissolved. That paved the way for international recognition of Slovenia and Croatia as sovereign countries in 1992.

The Badinter Commission also declared the borders between former Yugoslav republics as international frontiers between newly independent countries that could be changed only through diplomacy, and not by force. Despite the legal pronouncements, wars raged in the 1990s in Croatia and later Bosnia and Kosovo, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and displacing the largest number of refugees in Europe since World War II.

Macron will preside over a national tribute to Mr. Badinter, the president’s office said.

Mr. Badinter’s marriage to actress Anne Vernon ended in divorce. He was married to Elisabeth Badinter, a feminist philosopher, and had three children, but a complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

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